Saturday, May 23, 2009

One Toke Over The Line

I was trolling around the internet a while back looking for cheap laughs and I found some with this YouTube video:

This is a clip of the old Lawrence Welk show featuring a rendition of Brewer and Shipley's 1970 stoner epic "One Toke Over The Line." My jaw dropped as I watched the video. Did they have any idea what the lyrics of this song were about? Do the math: 1970 + "toke" = marijuana! Ding ding! We have a winner! Did that not even occur to them? The cheesiness factor is off the scale here especially with the clothes, which seemed pilfered from a high school drama class production of "Oklahoma." I thought I was hallucinating and became overjoyed because maybe the long-promised flashbacks from taking all that LSD in the 60s and 70s were finally happening. The kicker is at the end when Mr. Welk himself refers to the song as a "modern spiritual." That got a huge WTF? from me. I really wish the Welk show had continued long enough to do their version of the Village People's "In The Navy" as part of a patriotic music show. I can just see that - a dozen singers on stage, the women in their jacked-to-Jesus hair and puffy-sleeved dresses and the men in their Rotary Club haircuts and canary-yellow leisure suits. With Myron Floren on accordion, of course.

When I was a teenager you could not get any more uncool or unhip than Lawrence Welk. It was usually sponsored by a product called "Geritol" which was some kind of vitamin and mineral tonic specifically made for old people. I immediately labeled the music "Geritol music," something even my parents thought was funny. I'm sure Geritol tasted like the bottom of an old fish tank and I was convinced the only thing it did was made you smell funny, which most old people did. It was painful when the studio audience was shown dancing on the Welk show. Watching them stumble, jostle and bump each other I was sure we were only seconds away from someone breaking a hip. You could just hear the Depends undergarments crinkling and crunching beneath all the polyester. There was usually a bubble machine behind the musicians on stage which spewed out clouds of bubbles in a faux-elegant attempt to invoke the highbrow appeal of champagne. Side note: I read somewhere that the dancers on the show hated the bubbles because they broke on the floor and made it extremely slippery. If there is a "blooper reel" of the Welk show I would love to see it.

But seriously, I can look at clips of "The Lawrence Welk Show" now and get nothing but warm fuzzy feelings from them. It's kind of like televised comfort food - something that fills you with the sweet glow of nostalgia for the kinder, gentler days of your youth. My parents were parked in front of the television every Saturday evening to watch. They could not get enough of the show's schlocky, stridently old-fashioned production values and the creaky, timeworn old songs they exhumed for each show. When I was younger I had to wait very impatiently until Welk was over and something better came on. As I got older I would go upstairs to my room, clamp my stereo headphones on and play rock music at ear-splitting volume in an attempt to purge my brain of the flatulent stodginess of the Welk show.

Okay, that was pretty harsh. Now I really have nothing but nice thoughts about Welk and his "Champagne Music Makers." If nothing else, they gave the people of my parents' generation an hour of clean, pleasant and safe entertainment each week specifically tailored to appeal to them. It was one of their small but meaningful pleasures in the rapidly-emerging youth culture around them. They and their peers could celebrate the comfort and solidarity of their common memories and experiences, much of it rooted in the World War II era. I know my parents delighted in remembering good times when they danced to Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey and I really enjoyed hearing them reminisce about their youth. Sure, the show aggravated the crap out of me when I was a kid but I have no doubt I aggravated the crap out of a lot of people back then. It all goes around and comes around, and now looking back over the years the Welk show is a direct link to memories of my now-deceased parents and what was a very pleasant time in my life. And anything that made my parents happy makes me happy, too.

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